Cooking Chaos: 3 ways to successfully navigate the endless flow of recipes

Whether you are a foodie, have food allergies, are on a special diet or just love real, whole foods, you are probably a hoarder of recipes. I’ll be the first to raise my hand on this. When you have access to gobs and gobs of recipes, cooking tips, nutrition info…literally at your fingertips…well, a vast collection begins to accumulate. Regardless of how you keep up with it (placing favorites on your Bookmarks, pinning them on Pinterest or plain old-fashioned print-outs), it can just get..well…a little out of control.

recipe booksI’m speaking from experience, in case you couldn’t tell. When I first began radically changing my diet due to health problems (see “About” page), I was a leech on the internet. I scoured and scoured for recipes and would print many new ones every week. It was such a great resource and really helped me through that rough transition period. But as time went on, everything became more cluttered. I attempted to organize it all in a binder, using dividers and sheet protectors, which was helpful to an extent. But I still found that I was having clumps of new recipes stuck in the back and was quickly running out of room. And then many that were already in the binder weren’t being used. So at some point, I decided to do a total 180 and quit printing anything, unless it was really unique. But this wasn’t a good solution either as I was missing out on new food ideas.

So why is it important to have a good organizational scheme in place when it comes to managing your recipe info? It’s not just a neat freak thing. Anyone who has been in the real food world for even a short amount of time, and is therefore cooking the majority of meals and snacks, knows that having recipes on hand and easily accessible is important. Sure, you have some that you just know by heart, and some can be altered and still turn out alright, but most likely there are still many others that you need to refer to time and time again. Here are a few of the issues I have experienced:

  1. If your recipe collection is unorganized, you can’t find what you need when you need it.
  2. You’ll forget about good recipes as they get tucked away behind the new and incoming.
  3. You’ll end up having new recipes, tried-and-true ones, mediocre ones, ones you can’t even remember ever looking at…all wrapped up together.

So how do we fix it? Here are three general tips that I’ve found can help declutter your stockpile and make it a bit easier to manage.

  1. Find an organization method that fits you (and then do it.) We are all different which means that the same thing probably won’t work for all of us. What I find helpful may drive you nuts and vice versa. So figure out how you like to manage your recipes and what’s easiest for you to use; do you prefer a computer or hard copies? Do you want to use an app, a spreadsheet, or a filing system? Is Pinterest the way to go? Once you find what works for you, start doing it.
  2. Be selective. This one is a bit challenging. There are oodles of great recipes out there, and narrowing it down can be just downright tough. But if you find yourself marking two or three new things each day…well, it’s going to pile up fast (unless you do have the time to try recipes at this rate). So begin with being just a bit more picky as you scan the latest additions. For some of us, that may be going down to one new recipe each day, others one each week and others no change at all.
  3. Toss what needs to be tossed. Ok, this one is really hard for me. I tend to be a pack rat. My inner dialogue goes something like this “Ok, you need to pitch this one. You found it two years ago, still haven’t tried it and don’t plan to anytime soon.” “But I may need it at some point.” “You’ve been fine without it this long. Plus, it will be easy to get again online.” “Yeah, but…” You get the idea. Go through your recipes regularly and don’t be afraid to toss ’em out. Again, this will look different for everyone, but in general, any unused recipes can go (unless it’s been unused by accident and you intend to try it soon) and those that were mediocre or flat-out bad. Note: I wouldn’t recommend pitching a recipe that you’ve just worn out (i.e. a favorite that you need a break from). Simply retire these kinds of recipes but make sure you can easily access them again when you’ve had a long enough break.

To wrap up, I’ll tell you how I’ve decided to organize my recipe stash. I decided that hard copies were best for me. I really like using the computer for almost everything, but when I’m actually in the kitchen, cooking? I need a piece of paper in front of me.

I continued with the binder system that I mentioned above. I placed labeled dividers and sheet protectors in it.

Then I began going through the recipes. I got rid of any that I hadn’t used (and didn’t plan to use anytime soon). I also found the ones that I had never tried and stuck them in a stack of “Newbies,” which is where I will be keeping all new recipes. So the binder is now full of recipes that we like and use, and the new recipes are separate from the tried-and-true ones.

How do you organize your recipe collection?

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